Thoughts

#071 Constitutional Law & Civil Society

Going to a summer school in Korea, I heard a lot about the social movement in Korea that brought to the impeachment of former president Park Geun-Hye. After news outlets reported on the particular relationship the president had with one of her close friends, Choi Soon-Sil, people started protesting on the streets, calling for the president to step down. A few months later, the National Assembly send a motion of impeachment to the Constitutional Court, which, in the end, agreed on one issue and impeached the president. 60 days later, Korea had a new president.

There were many issues behind Park Geun-Hye’s impeachment: sharing classified information with a non-official, not reacting to a ferry sinking, etc. I would like to say that what is going in Japan right now might be far worse. I only know part of the stories because I did not take the time to look at everything. Here are 2 important cases:

  • Obstruction of justice: a young female reporter was raped by a senior journalist. She mustered courage, went to the police station, filed a complaint, even though the police officer told her “Are you sure you want to do that? It could ruin your life” (hello sexist society). In the end, the Police gathered evidence. There were medical evidence, surveillance camera recordings, the taxi driver’s deposition, etc. Police officers finally got a mandate to arrest the journalist. They decided to arrest him at the airport, as he was coming back to Japan. But at the last minute, the officers got a call: stop everything. The call came from above. Interests were at stake. They had to step down. The victim ended up organizing a press conference, showing her face to the nation, and explaining what happened. For the moment, nothing has happened. Why? Because the incriminated journalist has direct links with powerful people, among whom very possibly the Prime Minister, our beloved Abe.
  • Corruption, conflict of interests: there are now 2 schools under scrutiny in Japan. One is a primary school (Moritomo Gakuen) and a university (Kake Gakuen). Both of them are under suspicion of having benefited from special treatment from the current government. Telling the whole story would be long. In three words: money, power and friendships. The two stories brought many things to the surface. One of them is the implication of the Ministry of Education and its bureaucrats in the process, with pressure coming from the Cabinet. One bureaucrat has stepped down and is now talking freely in media outlets. I hope he won’t “commit suicide” in the upcoming months. Things happen, right?

And all of this is without talking about the influence of a far-right (cultish) group called Nippon Kaigi, the former Defense Minister saying that the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) were supporting the majority, eroding freedom of press, expression and association, remilitarization (even though the majority of the population is against it), etc. There must be some articles in English out there, I will try to find a few links. But those stories, which are just the emerged part of the iceberg (as we say in French), show that the Prime Minister and its party are using personal power, money and networks to govern. It is simply not acceptable.

Nevertheless, Japan (as Korea, from what I understood) has powerful conservative mass media. The national broadcasting station NHK is informing citizens about what the government deem important or right. You have a sensitive discussion at the Parliament and don’t want your constituents to know about it? Broadcast sumo instead, should be fine. You have a former official who spills important information showing the government is shady? Ask a conservative newspaper to discredit him. You have massive demonstration against your policies? Let media outlet know that they should cover the issue in a favorable manner. If they don’t want to: call them, pressure them, threaten them. It simple and efficient.

If you look at what is happening in front of the Parliament and on social media, you would be able to see how civil society is trying to organize itself to criticize and counter the government. Lawyers, professors, experts, students are active. Normal citizens are going out and protest with creative signs. But they are simply ignored, also because mass media let them be ignored. Many of my Japanese friends don’t have an opinion about those issues because they don’t even know. It was shocking to me, but it seems to be a pretty normal pattern. Politics is not something that people talk about casually. If you talk about it, you look like a political fanatic or a scary “leftist”. There is no space for debate, somehow. And the government is smartly using this social situation to advance its agenda without being hindered. How nice is that, right? Recent polls have shown that Japanese people’s understanding of democracy is about output (social welfare, fairness…) more than input (freedom of speech, elections, etc.). Most people are certainly concerned about their everyday lives and how to improve it. Political freedom and agency? Not that important. It is really reminding me of Freedom for Sale, a terrifying book written by Kampfner, showing that economic growth and material comfort is often more important than freedom and democracy. This case is sadly illustrating his thesis.

Now that I look at how Korean people were able to take down the president in a strong presidential system, I wonder even more about why Japanese people don’t seem to be able to get rid of their Prime Minister. PMs can be replaced and should be replaced when their support rate declines. Abe doesn’t even have 50% of support in the polls held by the conservative Yomiuri newspaper. But he’s not stepping down. People are on the street. But he’s not stepping down. And these days I am really curious to know why it’s not happening, when it should be much easier than in the Korean context. If anyone has a good explanation, please let me know. Until then, I will try to avoid falling in despair and attempt to find some hope, somewhere, somehow.

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Thoughts

#070 French Elections I: Overseeing The Presidential Elections.

OVERSEEING THE FRENCH ELECTIONS

Note: This article reflects my personal opinions related to French politics and the elections.

In the past months, populism has been at its best: between the Brexit in the UK and the election of Trump in the US, fear started filling minds. As the French elections were coming closer, my German landlords started expressing what they ironically coined at “German Angst”, a mix of fear and anxiety. They were startled by the high scores of Marine Lepen in the polls and started believing that France was next. I sat for hours in the kitchen, trying to explain the French election system and its differences with the American one, while they would remind of the Weimar Republic. “France cannot tilt. If France does, then the EU is done.”, the wife would tell me, telling me that we had to be “responsible” for the rest of Europe. It became difficult for me to face the topic, as I felt that she was not listening to my explanations. “What good is there studying in an Institute for Political Science if, in the end, everyone has a strong opinion about politics and your knowledge about the political system and its leverage goes down the drain?”, I wondered, a bit annoyed, frustrated and hurt that she would ignore my prognostics.

And what were my prognostics?

  • The Socialist Party was done: Manuel Valls had decided not to respect the results of the primaries and did not endorse Benoît Hamon. The latter embodied the left-side of the Socialist Party, proposing important reforms (universal income, shut down of nuclear power plants and investment in green energies, etc.), but I felt that, in a way, it was too early to make such propositions. People did not feel that his Keynesian measures would be implemented, as they required an incredible financial effort. To which we would add fight against the nuclear village, fight against neoliberal international institutions and corporations, etc. He was not on the right track to begin with, even though he was endorsed by our current superstar, the economist Thomas Piketty. So, no Socialist Party.
  • The Conservative Party (Les Républicains) was caught up in a scandal thanks to its leader, François Fillon, the herald of the Christian (anti-gay rights/anti-abortion)  community, known as the “Manif pour tous” (Demonstration for All, an obviously misleading name). So, no Républicains.
  • Jean-Luc Mélenchon: originally part of the Socialist Party, he left a few years ago to join the Front de Gauche (Leftist Front) and presented himself in 2017 as an independent candidate. Many of his ideas were closed to the Socialist Party’s and some hoped for the two candidates to join forces, in order to block the road to the right wing parties, and especially to Marine Lepen. Certainly because of a reluctance to hold the Socialist Party’s hand, he refused to accept the offer from Benoît Hamon. He ended up with a fair score, but no Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

During the first round of the elections, the candidates above were eliminated, as two other candidates arrived first and second:

  • Le Front National : the now sadly famous party led by Marine Lepen is a legacy from her (racist/sexist/antisemitic) father, Jean-Marie Lepen. She kicked her father out of the party a few years ago, as he was voicing negationist ideas. She then became the head of the party and, thanks to her oratory skills and her image (relatively young, feminine, etc.) she helped normalize her xenophobe party.
  • En Marche ! : Technically, En Marche! is not a party, but a “movement”, which refuses the label of being “leftist” or “rightist”. Its founder, Emmanuel Macron, is a young (39) man who went through the royal path to power: degree of philosophy, Sciences Po, ENA, Inspection générale des finances, Rotschild, Ministry of Economy. A brilliant citizen.

Now, since Sunday evening, my landlords’ fears are put to rest: Emmanuel Macron has been elected President, with more than 60% of the votes. If you count abstention and blank ballots, it’s more 45%, but who cares, he will be in office. We escaped the Lepen dynasty and will still enjoy 5 years of relative peace. Maybe.

What I find interesting is that by looking at newspaper covers outside of France, the world seems euphoric. France did not give up and, as John Oliver hoped, it proved itself superior to the UK and US. Nevertheless, I believe that difficulties lie ahead of us. The reason why Lepen has still gathered more than 30% is alarming: 30% of people who expressed clearly their opinion decided to vote for a lady who wants to “make France great again” by expulsing migrants, refusing to welcome refugees, denigrating freedom of religion, etc. Moreover, an important number of people decided not to vote, either by not going at all or by casting a blank ballot (16 million people). To put it simply, 1 French person out of 4 decided to not go, at all. And among those people, I believe many felt that the 2 candidates were not representing their opinion/wishes, and they did not want to cast a vote for the “less worse” (we call it “vote utile”) as they did not endorse neither candidate. One of my landlords told me it was irresponsible, as everything should be done to avoid having Marine Lepen in office. I replied, trying to stay calm: “This is a real decision they make. They are expressing a profound discontent against the current political system. It is the proof of the existence of a deep political crisis, not irresponsibility.”

Among people who did not go to vote or did not cast a valid ballot, I guess we could fine many left-wing people who really believed in the social programs supported by Mélenchon and/or Hamon. They wanted a return to Keynesian policies, instead of deregulated globalization. They hoped for more state-sponsored initiatives, a better social safety net, public investments creating jobs, etc. But facing Lepen and Macron, they understood that their wishes would not be fulfilled. Lepen is promoting “national preference”, a politically correct word to talk about isolationism, while Macron is supporting more deregulation on the labor market. Both candidates have no desire to stop nuclear energy, nor to help modest families to make ends meet. Well, at least Macron did not express a will to get out of the EU. Yeah.

I personally believe that we should not express to much joy about those elections. We still need to stay focus until the end of the legislative elections, as Macron will not be able to govern without a stable majority at the Parliament. But what happens when a candidate does not belong to a party, and therefore has no clear allies in parliament? How will he organize his troops and will those be loyal? Many questions are still floating around, and we will not get an answer until June. Also, I believe that it will be important for Macron to understand that he actually gathered 43% of the votes, not 66%, meaning that he is in a delicate position. With 25% of French people who did not vote, he will have to prove that he is worthy of the task. And I do not believe that more economic deregulation, less taxes for the ones who can afford to pay them, or a more flexible labor market is the solution. French people are not like Germans, they will not quietly endure austerity, waiting for better days. Instead, they might choose to vote for Marine Lepen in five years. And then I do not believe that we will able to stop her anymore.

So, Emmanuel, good luck.

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Newspapers

#069

UBER: BETWEEN LIBERALISM AND PRECARIOUSNESS

When Uber appeared in France, it was a revolution. You could have a taxi ride for a lower price, no need to have cash on you and, le must, you generally had a nice driver and bottles of water. It seemed like a dream. With Uber Pool, you could have a ride for even cheaper and, sometimes, have interesting encounters. On the other side, it was said that this new way of working would allow people to get out of poverty, to find a job by self-employing themselves, to increase their monthly income, etc. But is it really the case?

These days, I wonder if I should even take a Uber ride. I think my dilemma is similar to the one concerning children working in Bangladesh. Should we stop those children from working, and therefore put an additional strain on their families’ financial difficulties, or should we let children bring a small income home, at the price of getting no proper education. Here, the dilemma is as follow: should we get on a Uber and help those drivers making a living, or should we strongly oppose this ultra-liberal, non protective, and from my point of view exploitative form of labor? The company would say they ‘only’ take 25% out of those drivers’ income. If they make 4 000 euros a month, that is still plenty of money. But it means that the company is putting aside all the running costs, pushed onto the drivers (buying a car, taking care of it, paying for insurance, parking and gas, etc.). According to Le Monde, after paying for running costs and taxes, the drivers making 4 000 euros (gross) are left with… 600 euros (net). Is that a correct income? I don’t think so.

Moreover, those drivers have almost no safety net. As they work as entrepreneurs, they are not covered by Uber in case of an accident. They cannot rely on anyone else when they are sick. This is an example of neoliberal economy pushed to a new extreme. But we are pretty much indifferent, because ‘if they did not have Uber, they would be jobless’. Many people do not understand why Uber drivers would be on strikes in France, but if you think that after working 40h a week (the legal limit for employed people in France in 35) you have 600 euros left, I think it’s understandable to see those drivers on the streets, demanding better working conditions. Especially when you see that Uber has made more than $5 billion in 2016. Uber, an amazing ‘start-up’, praised all over the world for it’s amazing growth, but built on people’s suffering. Is this right? I don’t think so.

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#068

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ‘BIASED’?

Recently, I have strongly felt that many people will think that the research I do is “biased”: I am a left-wing, well-educated (almost) white girl from Europe, with a fair amount of social, cultural and economic capital. I write about a group of stigmatized people in Japan, coming from a region I did not even know before 3.11. I have a comfortable life, so it’s easy for me to go against the nuclear lobby, saying that their facilities are crap and that we should, as quickly as possible, shift for renewable energies. Yes, if electricity bills get a little more expensive, I will not suffer from it. Yes, I have enough spare time to think about what intensive agriculture does to our planet and the effects. Yes, I can take the time to think about why our societies are producing so many inequalities, spending hours the nose in books such as The Capital from Piketty. Yes, it’s easy to be critical when you have everything you need in life, when you do not need to worry about your next meal, and when you’re basically paid 3 years to write a thesis which will have no monetary value.

Since 3.11, I took a stronger stance against nuclear power. There is no accountability, no responsibility. In France, nuclear power plants are not entirely insured because they are not insurance-material. We have old facilities that, in case of an accident, could cause the contamination of a large part of the European continent (and of course, our neighbors can’t do a thing about it). There is no public debate, because it is too controversial. The companies invest tons of money in order to market their energy as green (at least since the 90s), as they surf on the “low-carbon” wave. Local communities? Well, they are profiting from those facilities, no? They accepted to have those facilities built there and they get money from it. So… Fukushima people are kinda responsible for what happened to them… right?

I read a lot about nuclear policies and nuclear facilities these days and I realize that what I read is mainly in accordance with my opinion, meaning that those papers and books are very critical of nuclear power in general. They generally incorporate concepts of governmentality and criticize market economy. In short, they fit very well with my worldview. So… does it mean that I am biased? Surely. And therefore it becomes difficult to have a calm, constructive discussion with people who tell me that “Fukushima people kinda deserve this, since they got money from TEPCO”.

I really have difficulties understanding this “rational-choice” vision of the world. “Fukushima people were poor. They accepted the nuclear power plants (F1 and F2) because they needed the money, and therefore they accepted the risks coming with those plants.” Is it this simple?

  1. When operators decide to construct a nuclear power plant, they first look for a very poor, countryside place, because it’s easier to make the population say yes if they are desperately in need of money. I am pretty sure that they minimize talks about risks.
  2. Operators are smart; when there is resistance, they know how to break it down. If you look at the French example, you see how operators started investing a lot of money into advertisement, communication, education, etc., in order to promote a proper understanding of radiations and nuclear power in general. This is also happening in Fukushima right now, with the publications of pamphlets and books, but also the construction of “information centers” and “radiation education” (by the State) explaining to ignorant, irrational citizens why radiation is great (again). That’s how EDF and the French state succeeded in marginalizing anti-nuclear activists in the late 70s, early 80s.
  3. Operators are rich (or at least they pretend to be); they know how to handle the media. Especially in the Japanese case, you see how TEPCO has invested an enormous amount of money in advertising in newspapers. The Yomiuri, Asahi, Mainichi, they all heavily rely on money coming from the energy industry. And then you expect a “fair” coverage of what is happening?

I am fascinated by inequalities in our societies. Someone told me: “I don’t understand the argument that inequalities are the reason why nuclear plants were built there. Those people accepted the plants!” You don’t see inequalities when you have a powerful actor constructing a (very dangerous) industrial facility in a poor region which lacks resources and state support? Really? Am I really so left-wing that I start seeing exploitation and power-relations everywhere? It seems so obvious to me that having nuclear power plants in very poor and peripheral regions is a sign that we use people’s misery to our own sake. You will never see a nuclear power plant in the middle of Paris or Tokyo. And even if they tried to build one of those, you would have intellectuals, manipulating their social, economic and cultural capital, standing in the way and, most certainly, winning. Because they have the power to do so. In Tohoku, one of the poorest region of Japan, with high levels of unemployment and suicide, people are on the other side of the power-relation. “Do you prefer staying out of employment, with basically very little money and no prospect for your children, or do you prefer that we build this (kinda risky) plant in your backyard in exchange of better local facilities, better schools and giving you pocket money on top of it?” Right now, in Aomori prefecture, they are building a very high-standard school near the very controversial Rokkasho facility. It’s trade: we give your children a great education and you shut up. This is NOT a fair exchange. And I don’t even know how people can think that this can be fair.

But again, I guess I must be terribly biased. Does this make my message less legitimate?

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Research, Thoughts

#067

DECONSTRUCTING ANGER

Two days after my horrible encounter at a conference concerning food education in Berlin, I decided to write a second article. I talked to one of my professors in university, who was also pretty much shocked by the discourse heard at the conference, and we agreed that part of research is to take the time to write down how we feel (hello anthropology). So, why was I so angry?

  • Positivist science:

This relates directly to my previous article. Science IS NOT unbiased. It is embedded in a social, cultural, economic and political context and it would be foolish to think differently. Let’s look at the bomb A. After the bombs were dropped on Japan, scientists started screaming, saying that science should not be used in such manners. Why? Because of moral concerns. A second example would be cloning: there are still many debates concerning the use and application of cloning, even for medical purposes. Moral concerns. If we look at the question of nuclear power in France, its development was linked to the will of De Gaulle (and cie.) to give France a form of energy resource that would allow the country to get rid of its dependence on imported fossil fuels. Politically embedded. HELLO!

Science is part of everyday life politics. It is a part of our economic, but also emotional life. It makes us wonder about future discoveries and possible applications. It brings people to wonder if in 10 years they will be able to choose the color of their children’s eyes and hair. Will we be able to make the Down syndrome disappear? Should we? Or should we let nature proceed as it has until now? Saying that science is objective is stupid. Simply.

  • Official government discourse:

The presenter told us she was not hired by the government to “calm down” the population in Fukushima prefecture. I thought: “well… how did you end up there, then?” While I was talking to my professor, I learnt that YES, she had been hired by the local government. That makes her a liar. And then she was saying how she had to convince people that she has not been sent by the government in order to make them listen to her. So… you’re a double liar? You told them you were not sent by the government? And you tell us that openly? I find it very surprising to be so shameless. She has been receiving money (as a consultant) to spread this positivist idea of science, telling residents that it is fine to live in a contaminated area, as long as you’re paying attention to a few elements.

She is basically reproducing the discourse produced by ETHOS in Belarus. ETHOS was a European program headed by an economist, Lochard. From this point, you can see that there is a choice made: they did not send a physician, nor a physicist, but an economist. He then applied complex calculations, embedded in “rational economics”, in order to see how to reach an economic efficient situation. As evacuation and managing evacuees (and paying compensations) was becoming expensive, too expensive, they called economists to try to find a way to deal with Chernobyl in more cost-effective ways. ETHOS was born. “Yes, you can live there as long as you do not eat the fruits and vegetables you grow on contaminated lands, burn the wood you collect in contaminated forests, walk near rivers which are highly contaminated, etc.” Is this “living”? I am not sure. But it is less expensive then evacuating. So let’s do it that way.

The Japanese government is implementing the same type of policy today. It does not want to pay tremendous amount of money on evacuation and wish people would stay quiet in Fukushima prefecture. Having people evacuating is also a reminder that the situation is NOT under control and that’s bad for the state and TEPCO. It is also hitting local economy hard. So why not bringing the population to think that it’s fine!?

  • Taking people for passive objects:

I think the point that infuriated me the most was the following: “Science is objective; people lack literacy and are emotional.” It was an easy way to say: “those people do not understand radioactivity, we have to teach them the right knowledge”. But this is entirely wrong. If you go onto the field, you will find NPOs gathering data (air, soil and food contamination), individuals reading books about exposure to radioactivity and walking around with Geiger counters, mothers checking food contamination tables in order to buy food in supermarkets, worrying about the relations between external and internal exposure (which is largely ignored by the official discourse). People DO know about what science is about. They have learnt and especially now, 5 years after the accident, they master the numbers and the scales. Becquerel and sievert, cesium and strontium, gamma, beta and alpha, micro and milli, etc. They give you papers filled with numbers, going from one data to another, dancing through the tables. “I had the dirt in front of our house measured, and can you believe that we still have 13 000 becquerels/kg there?” “The government measures radioactivity at 1m above the ground, but kids are shorter so you need to measure it at 10 and 50cm. Look how the contamination level changes!”

As I was meeting people in and out of Fukushima prefecture, I progressively learnt about all of this. Actually, I felt stupid the first time I went on the field, because I thought I knew about this and I realized I didn’t. They took the time to go through papers and data, to discuss the question of the threshold that has been decided by the government, to explain their views on low-level contamination exposure. They are knowledgeable. Maybe thanks to the lack of transparency from public institutions and TEPCO. And I cannot accept this truth to be step upon by a lady who certainly did not even take the time to listen to people’s worries properly.

  • Ignoring plurality:

And this is linked to the next point: ignoring plurality. She was stating vague generalities about how laypeople are not knowledgeable when it comes to science. As I said, this fact in itself is stupid. But it also does not address the existence of diversity on the field, linked to different personal stories, economic background, level of education, possibility to evacuate, etc. People who stayed in Fukushima Prefecture are diverse: some of them could not evacuate for financial reasons. Some did not evacuate because it meant putting aside their whole lives (social, professional, etc.). Some had to take care of old parents. Some could not leave their business. And so on. It means that, even if people do not express their concerns out loud and all seem to be ok with contamination, it is not the case. Some people ignore the issue, in order to avoid going insane. Some do not believe that low-level radiations are dangerous. Some people worry, silently.

This is not directly related, but I am pretty sure that there must be psychological studies done on the field. There should be, at least, because there is so much stress, distress and anxiety buried there. I read somewhere that PTSD in Fukushima (non-tsunami related) could possibly become worse than PTSD linked to the tsunami, because fear does not have a proper physical representation. Fear is provoked by an invisible enemy (radioactivity), supported by a powerful knight (the state). How do individuals protect themselves against those influential opponents? How do they reconstruct trust relationships in this kind of context?

  • Symbolic violence:

I was discussing the concept of “symbolic violence” with a colleague the other day. We were trying to put a color on this obscure notion. Well, this is, to me, an example of symbolic violence. It is invisible, sneaking in your back and telling you what to think. It is a normative discourse, contaminating minds in order to shape people’s beliefs and decision-making mechanisms. Domination wears velvet gloves, covering up individual narratives, muffling public discussions. I am personally interested in the way women are subjects to this discourse, and how they challenge it in order to protect their children. But I am sure that many men suffer from the impossibility to talk about radioactivity and their worries, a reason why I spend a lot of time discussing with men when I am on the field. All participants carry a heavy burden, untold doubts and hidden uncertainties. There is a real need to acknowledge pain, anger and hope, whatever the shape it takes, whatever the discourse it underpins.

I have a strong stance when it comes to nuclear power and contamination in post-Fukushima Japan. I do stand for the self-evacuees and concerned people. But I also hear the voices of the ones who decide to stay in Fukushima prefecture, those who make the choice (willingly or not) to live a “normal” life, without thinking about contamination and radioactivity continuously. I am sometimes speechless, trying to make sense of the discourses I hear. But I always try to open my eyes and my ears, in order to give space to all positions, all experiences, all narratives. It is an attempt, and sometimes I fail. But I wish more people, on the field, would try to adopt the same attitude.

Stop crushing personal stories under a heavy, noisy, toxic official, de-legitimizing personal trajectories. Please.

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Research, Thoughts

#066

FOOD EDUCATION & RISK COMMUNICATION

Yesterday, I went to a conference on food education, co-organized by my graduate school. I was mainly interested by a professor who came all the way from Hawaii and who wrote one of my seminal books (dealing with scientific knowledge, postfeminism, neoliberalism in the aftermath of 3.11). I was excited to listen to what she had to say about food education in Japan and its implication on gender roles within the family, class, and race. The conference was interesting, even though I thought that it went somehow too smoothly, as very little people addressed frontally the system as it is.

And then, in the afternoon, the horror. A consultant in risk communication started talking about risk/hazard and how people were not able to make the difference. Her job was to explain people that hazard is qualitative, while risk is quantitative: an increasing amount of hazard makes risk. And to go on with the situation in Fukushima. She had been a contamination advisor in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, explaining the population what radioactivity is, how it interacts with the human body and what are the hazards linked to it. She had this very infuriating way of saying that lay-person knowledge is biased, irrational and non-scientific, while well… science is science.

I am sure she is a very smart lady. But it does not require to be particularly educated in radioactivity related matters to see that NO, science is not neutral. The government and TEPCO did not communicate transparently after the accident, creating a trust crisis and a knowledge void the population had to deal with. Currently, there is no study that says that long-term exposure to low-level radiations causes cancer. But there is no study that proves the contrary: that it does NOT cause cancer. However, the government decided to put the now famous “precaution principle” aside, asking people to live in areas  more than 20 times more contaminated than where they used to live. Children were supposed to go to schools with contamination going up to 20 mSv/year, a threshold that applies to workers of the nuclear industry (mainly men in their 40s, weighting 70kg, not 10 year-old 30kg kids). Psychologists were sent to the region to advise the residents: “Do you know that worrying causes more harm to your body than radioactivity?”

The presenter was talking about risk communication. I went to an event at the UNU in Tokyo in November 2015, focusing on this topic. It was dry, dehumanized, uninteresting. Researchers talk about this top-down relationship between the administration and the population, without understand what communication really means. I guess it comes from this “positivist idea of science” (science as a neutral, universal truth) that science is something that “normal” people cannot understand and that has to be explained to them. Layperson knowledge is discarded, disregarded, looked down upon. But communication means “to put in common” in latin. Communication is not a one-way relationship, it’s about exchange, discussion, debate. Why calling risk communication something that is simply produced and distributed by one side? Why should that type of communication be legitimized, and lay-person knowledge thrown away?

If you go to Fukushima Prefecture, and more generally talk to evacuees from the region, you will be surprised as how much knowledge they have gathered. I am not saying that all people have the same level of knowledge and care the same way. After all, if you cannot evacuate (for 1000 different reasons), you might prefer burying your worries if you want to stay sane… But the people I met through my two fieldworks taught me a lot about radioactivity, its effects, how to measure it and how to counter it. I received pamphlets, was advised to read certain books and newspaper articles, was invited to accompany them to make measurements on the streets and to see how certain NPOs measure contamination in food. It was striking to see how layperson knowledge was developing, spreading, evolving, in parallel to official knowledge. The reality is really far from “objective science & irrational, emotional people”. It takes a few hours to realize that. You just need to push a few doors, walk down a few streets and open your eyes and ears. I am a baby researcher, at the beginning of my study. I only have been on the field for a total of two months. But it was enough to show me that science is not a unified, unbiased entity. It is always situated in political, social, economical and cultural settings, which shape the way it is interpreted, but also done. It would be good if advisors and professionals going to “reassure” people in Fukushima knew about this, instead of shaming people who think differently through the use of words such as fūhyōhigai or shinkeishitsu.

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#065

HOPE.

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Sometimes, I lose hope in humanity. I watched a TED video last night explaining why currently developed new nuclear generators will save the environment – and more generally the planet – by providing safe and cheap energy to India and China (ok, the explanation is more complex than this, but still) without talking about the issue of overconsumption at all. The “free-world” (I hate this expression) is now shaking, looking at the stupidity of Trump, without even understanding how he got elected (yes, there are desperate people out there, and maybe it would be a good idea to start listening to them!). Myself, I ignored two men distributing pamphlets on the street today, without even returning a smile, as I was too busy holding a warm cup of coffee (I eventually got one and it was about a Muslim group militating for peace and freedom in Germany). As I was walking down the street, I saw so many men (only men today) sitting on the floor, holding placards, wearing light jackets (it’s 1°C in Berlin right now), while we were passing by, blinded by our own issues. When I entered a bank to withdraw money for this afternoon, a man opened the door for me with a large smile, selling newspapers for pocket money. I looked at my wallet and didn’t know if he would be upset at my pathetic 0,80€.

When I got home, I decided to look into what can be done to help those people in Berlin. My only problem is that I almost don’t speak German. Of course, people need warm clothes, warm meals, but they also need warm conversations. Giving out bread without a word is not the same thing as sitting with them with a hot tea. I really realized the importance of conversations in Fukushima, as I was conducting with people who are ignored by the government and invisible to the general public. Talking, exchanging, laughing, crying… This is also something vital that you should provide. So now, the question is: how can I help without speaking the local language?

I am looking into many websites talking about helping people around in Berlin. These days, there are many actions targeting Syrian refugees and I thought that my English language abilities might be of help. I still have to look into all of this, but I really want to do something, instead of simply thinking about the philosophical, social, economic, political and moral implications of migrations and war-time refugees dying in the Mediterranean See.

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